Career Coach takes your questions

Dec 11, 2013

With an unemployment rate of 7.3 percent, a little career advice never hurt anyone.

Career coach Joyce Russell discussed jobs, negotiations and salary issues. Ask questions and get advice now!

Want more? Read Joyce Russell's Career Coach columns.

Welcome readers to our December online chat. Feel free to send any career-related questions or any thoughts you have about holiday-related issues at the workplace.



I live in a right to work state. Employers can hire and dismiss at will and can do anything they want to employees while they are employed. It's very difficult and expensive to challenge a hostile work environment through the legal system. My question is, "How does one handle a demotion with a title change on their resume when this happens to them even though they are still doing the same type of work?"

If you are still doing the same work but your job title has changed, how much has the title changed? It may be more noticeable to you than to outsiders. It really depends on what the title is. Of course, you can always explain it in terms of a restructuring if you have had a new boss come in who has changed things around (assuming this is the case).  You have not given the reason for why the title was changed, although it sounds like you feel it was due to inapproriate actions on management's part.  But, was it due to new restructuring or a new focus in the firm? If so, use these reasons if you need to explain this to outsiders. Can you tell me more about the case so I can provide more specific help?

I feel obligated to give everyone in my department a small token holiday gift because I've done so every year - and everyone else does it. But the department is just way to big now to make it practical. We already do a Secret Santa gift exchange. How do I not give out gifts to everyone but not feel guilty?

This is a very real and tough issue that many folks are facing. If you can do more joint events (Secret Santa, holiday lunch, etc.), that helps the entire group. If you can get everyone to do the same thing,  to not give small tokens, then this would help you out, too. The other thing to do is to spend some time to write a personalized note to each person thanking them for their unique contributions. While it does not involve money (and would save you in costs), it could serve the effect you want by "touching" each person to let them know they matter to the firm and to you.

Another possibility is to bring up this issue when you have a group meeting to see how others feel about the issue. You may be surprised to find that others also agree with you and would rather stop the small gifts in lieu of some fun community events (maybe the group goes out to lunch or bowling or something else that they can all enjoy).

I graduated college in May and was able to secure a job right after graduation. However, after 6 months it's clear that this career/industry are not for me. I always hear that you should stay at a job at least a year, but at this point I don't see that happening and have already begun applying for new jobs. What's the best way to approach this question when it inevitably comes up in interviews in the future?

It is not critical that you stay in a job for one year exactly. What is important is that you can explain why you left so soon. In today's climate, it is less of an issue to move to various firms, as long as those moves are advancements or can show progress of some sort. You did not say whether you are leaving the functional field to try a totally different field or if you are just leaving one firm to move to another firm.

You said the career is not for you so I am assuming you are trying something new. As long as you can give a reason for why you are trying a new area and perhaps can show how it is somewhat related to the previous area, this will help. Maybe it is more related than you think. Ask someone to review your resume to see how you are positioning yourself in the market (via your resume, cover letter, etc). Getting an outsider's perspective on how your resume looks will help you out. But, do not be overly alarmed about moving to a new field if you just graduated from college last year. This is more common than you may think. Best of luck!

I'm planning to move coasts next year and can't decide if it's realistic to try job-hunting before I'm local or even have a firm move date. It's worth noting that I could use my mom's address so that I appear local, but I obviously can't interview in person unless it's arranged to happen during a pre-scheduled trip. In addition, I'm trying to build my professional network there so I can at least start the conversations online and by phone sooner rather than later. There is also a real possibility that my current employer will let me continue to work remotely as a contractor, if not as full-fledged employee, which gives me reassurance that I won't be without income and could launch a local job search in earnest once I've completed the move. Do you have any guidance on how I should approach this? Thank you.

Good questions! I think it is fine to use your mom's address since she is local. If you get interviews, try to line them up around the same time so you can go out there for those meetings. Also, some of your initial interviews may be by phone or Skype anyway, so you might be okay.  Remember that even if you lived out there, you still could be working and not be available at the drop of a hat. Employers know this.

I do think you need to figure out (sounds like you are working on this) when you will make the move since your interviews and start date will depend on this. So, try to identify a realistic start date. If you can work remotely in your current job, then it would be to your advantage to move as soon as you can. Once you are local it is easier to job search since you are available for interviews at any time, you can join local professional associations and you can network with people locally. Best of luck!

Readers - is it time to reel in your holiday parties? Have they gotten too out-of-hand for your staff? One thing to think about is whether they are even in keeping with what your employees want.

In some firms today, they are scaling back to reflect a simpler message of back to basics - where the idea is to thank people for their hard work over the year, to recognize and celebrate various contributions, and to leave people feeling energized about their firms.

So, think about what the purpose of the holiday party is and plan accordingly. While your competitors may throw a big party, is that what your employees really want? Maybe, but maybe not.

Readers - any thoughts on this?

Readers - a number of  people have asked me how you handle holiday decorations. It seems that most everyone wants to decorate for the holidays, but might be worried about offending one group or another. What does your firm do to help with this? Anyone out there see this done in a great way at your firm?

Several firms that I know will still have holiday decorations, but they will have a diverse committee work on this topic to ensure that the decorations are fun, spiritual, and are inclusive of the groups represented at their firm.

Propose your office focus the same money and energy on sponsoring a needy family instead.

Great idea! More and more firms are doing this and people are feeling better about engaging in these types of giving programs. That old adage about "giving feels better than receiving" is often true.

Thanks for reminding us!

I often get asked how to throw a holiday party without spending a lot of money. Is it even possible? It might be important to watch costs for a number of reasons, including the fact that the firm might be undergoing budget cuts, salaries or raises have been frozen or employees have been furloughed. When this is the case, having an expensive holiday party sends the wrong signal and can get employees upset who may see a better use for that money.

So, what's a firm to do? You may still want to get people together to celebrate the season. You could have the event at lunchtime or breakfast to save on food (and eliminate alcohol, which is costly). Also,  employees often appreciate holding an event during the work day so that they can still go home and spend time with their families.

You could also host the event at your own facility, using your office lobby if that is a possibility. If you do have the event in the evening and serve alcohol, then limit the number of options to keep the costs down.

It is also important to use an employee committee to design the event to ensure it will be well-received. They might suggest bringing in local performers (rather than professional ones) or doing an employee talent show - it is amazing what you can learn about fellow employees talents!  Having your own talent show is a great way to bond the team of employees so that they can talk about the fun talents their fellow employees have. The bottom line is that a holiday event does not have to be overly expensive to be fun and to celebrate with employees. Break out your creative ideas!

If your firm wants to celebrate the holiday season, but doesn't want to have an office party, what else can it do? Many firms have come up with other creative options to celebrate the season with their employees.

How about having a cookie or pie bake-off and invite employees to bring in their special baked goods to share with each other? Let them choose a few judges to give out fun awards (best appearance, best aroma, best taste).  Another idea: Close up work early to host games for the afternoon - could be board games, sports competitions, casino games or table tennis. Maybe you set up space in your lobby or another large area for people to play. A few festive decorations could add to the appeal. Another idea that has been gaining in popularity is the Ugly Sweater contest, in which everyone wears their holiday sweaters and sweatshirts to work. People often love to be comfortable and casual at work and this gives them the chance to do this. What about a contest where employees decorate their work areas in a special theme? There are many possible alternatives to a holiday party that might get employees jazzed up about the firm and spending time with their colleagues. Just make sure to use an employee committee to help plan it.


Thanks readers for your questions and insights today. I look forward to taking your questions at our next online chat on January 15th from 1noon-1 p.m. In the meantime, have a relaxing and joyful holiday season and a fantastic start to the New Year!



In This Chat
Joyce E.A. Russell
Joyce E.A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist.
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